You Gotta Know Your Tension

  • Elena Hunt
  • February 28, 2014 12:07 pm

Tension in Crochet

My “Tension” is causing me tension… Have you ever felt this way??

When you are working on a crochet project and you can’t quite get the gauge to match what the pattern is suggesting- It can be so frustrating!!  Or, maybe you are working on your own project and it seems to pucker, get wavy, uneven stitching or just not work the way you thought it should.  These common problems plague all of us!!!

I started crocheting 40 years ago… Red Heart worsted weight yarn in deep purple! Oh, to just turn the clock back to simpler times… Not knowing what I was doing or that Yarn, Hooks, and how I held the yarn would even really matter! Fast forward… Fine yarn, Bulky yarn, Cotton yarn, Thread… Hooks of every make and model… Doilies, Cardigans, Afghans, Amigurumi… The list can go on and on!!!  And yes…Tired hands!  They all play a part in how our projects unfold.   So let’s see what we can do to help our tension become our pleasure and get our crochet projects to turn out perfectly (or almost perfect) each time!!

The yarn:

How does the yarn effect how your project??  I found out many years ago through trial and error that each yarn (including brand and weight) can greatly effect my project!  Different fibers glide differently through our fingers and across our hooks creating a different level of friction. This is one cause of uneven stitching or our gauge being off.  Starting off with a test or gauge swatch is the best idea!  By making a test swatch, you can see if the yarn you have chosen will work for the gauge standard of the pattern you have chosen.  I like to use the yarn that is suggested in the pattern, but this isn’t always possible for various reasons. Many times I am using my stash or can’t run to the store to buy the yarn called for.  This is one reason I like to make a test swatch, especially when you are making a project that needs to fit correctly!  If the yarn you have chosen is working up too loosely or too tight, you may be able to adjust your hook size to obtain the gauge. Or, you may have to change yarns to get the best results.

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Another factor in tension is working with different weights of yarns.  I generally work with worsted weight yarn, so when I make project out of thread or bulky yarns my tension is usually off until I have worked with the fiber for a couple rows. This seems to be most noticeable when I start to work on doilies after long periods of working with worsted weight yarn.  In this case, I like to make some practice rows until my stitching becomes even…  They do say practice makes perfect… I think practice just makes me a much better Crochet Artist!!!!

The Hook:

Last month my article on hooks really gave a well rounded view of how hooks can effect our crocheting.  If you haven’t read that article, I hope you will spend a few extra minutes reviewing it… “What You Should Know About Crochet Hooks“.  But, I do want to talk about hooks, tension and how it effects our crochet projects…  I love wooden hooks!  The wooden hooks in my collection are smooth and efficient, I usually don’t have any tension issues with them.  I also use my metal hooks equally, and plastic hook occasionally.  What I notice most about hooks and tension is the way I hold them.  Different hooks have different style grips, and this causes me to crochet slightly different with each hook. And, when changing to a smaller hook size I always need to be careful with my tension and practice a little before moving on to the new project!

And lastly… Working with a clean crochet hook is of the utmost importance!!  Make sure your hook is clean and free of anything that may cause friction!  I wash my hooks often and polish them with a cloth to keep my yarn gliding smoothly!!

Holding your yarn and hook:

The way we weave the yarn through our fingers is how we control our tension when crocheting. I’m not sure if there is a right or wrong way, but what I do know is that this is a key factor in tension!!  I have held my yarn the same way since I started…It has become autopilot for me in helping control the tension of the yarn going to my hook… Also the way I hold the yarn as it comes off the hook and the way I support my project also effects my tension.  This is all about comfort and consistency. Once you find a way to hold your yarn comfortably, your tension should be even and consistent!  If you are new to crocheting this just takes a little practice, but once you get get comfortable you will be on your way to even stitching!!

holding yarn

A word about gauge:

So what is gauge all about and how does tension effect the gauge??  My crochet always is a little looser than what the pattern gauge calls for… So for me, I always have to do a gauge swatch to match up what the pattern sizing is calling for.  If I don’t take this extra step before starting the pattern, my projects always turns out much larger than they should and I may get some “wavy” areas or mis-shapen corners.  Some crocheter’s have a tighter tension and this would cause your project to be smaller and possibly pull in certain areas of the pattern.

So, How do you make the adjustment if your tension is off??  I start by trying different hooks, first by going up or down a hook size and making my test swatch.  Occasionally I may just need to change styles of hooks, this works well when I am only slightly off… Another adjustment that can be made to help with gauge is to change your yarn, remember each fiber will have a slightly different friction which will change your tension and this will effect your gauge!  Even when your project is slightly off in your gauge swatch, this can cause a large problem at the end of a project. Remember, your gauge swatch is only a small piece of what your final project will turn out to be like.  So even 1/4″ off in your swatch can make a huge difference when you are making garments, afghans and other larger items.

Remember, tension is only good when it refers to the way your yarn works in your project.  So relax and have some crochet fun!!


Elena Hunt

Elena Hunt

Blogger/Crochet Designer at Beatrice Ryan Designs

I am just a small town girl… well, woman! I was born and raised in Mt. Shasta California and have raised my three children, a son 30, two daughter’s 29 and 17 here in this mountain community. I have the pure joy of also having two beautiful grandchildren.

When I was 10 my grandmother taught me to crochet. A Granny Square pattern was my first project. Her name was Beatrice Ryan Ramshaw, a tiny Irish powerhouse! All my memories include her crocheting… tablecloths, slippers, doilies and blankets. As a young woman the bug got me… I began crocheting and haven’t stopped! 40 years of crochet experience and many beautiful projects under my belt….

Join me in this journey… passed down from generation to generation… keeping alive the skills and beauty of Crochet!

Elena Hunt

Elena Hunt

Elena Hunt

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  1. Thank you so much for the tension article. I’ve just recently learned how tension can effect my project. it’s when I went to count the number of spaces and squares I needed in my project. Well, I had to start over, and now my project looks great now. I will follow you.

  2. Great Tisia!!! Your project is looking great!!

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